Tag Archives: Samuel D. Sturgis

The Battle of Brice’s Crossroads

June 10, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest scored one of his greatest victories against the Federal effort to stop his Confederates from harassing Major General William T. Sherman’s supply lines.

Brig Gen S.D. Sturgis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Sherman, the Federal commander in the Western Theater, ordered Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis to lead a force into northern Mississippi to find and destroy the railroads useful to Forrest’s Confederate command. Forrest had continuously harassed Sherman’s supply line on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, and Sherman wanted him eliminated once and for all.

Sturgis left Collierville, Tennessee, with 8,100 infantry and cavalry, along with 400 artillerists and 22 guns. His specific instructions were to “proceed to Corinth, Mississippi, by way of Salem and Ruckersville, capture any force that may be there, then proceed south, destroying the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to Tupelo and Okolona, and as far as possible toward Macon and Columbus.”

Major General Stephen D. Lee, the new Confederate commander of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, directed Forrest to leave his Tupelo, Mississippi, headquarters and raid the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad with 2,200 cavalrymen and six guns. But before Forrest could cross the Tennessee River, he received urgent orders to turn back and face Sturgis, whose Federals were advancing on Ripley, Mississippi.

Unsure where Sturgis might attack, Forrest’s troopers rode back and took positions between Tupelo and Corinth. Sturgis’s first objective was the Mobile & Ohio Railroad running through Tupelo, but he had no reliable information on Forrest’s whereabouts and could expect no help from civilians. Moreover, the Federals did not reach Ripley until the 7th due to heavy rain and mud. They had advanced just 50 miles in a week, and their supply train was so far behind the main column that the men were reduced to half-rations.

Sturgis held a council of war to decide whether to turn back due to the incessant rain and delays. Sturgis’s officers recommended pressing forward regardless, and Sturgis obliged. The Federals headed southeast from Ripley the next day. Forrest had initially thought they were moving to reinforce Sherman, but the southeastern movement compelled him to guess they were targeting Tupelo instead. He therefore began planning to attack the Federals before they got there.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On the night of the 9th, the Federals camped about nine miles northwest of Brice’s Crossroads, a heavily forested area about 20 miles north of Tupelo. Forrest issued orders for his three columns to converge at the crossroads and block Sturgis’s advance. Forrest would be close to his supply base while Sturgis’s supplies were still coming up. Forrest also had civilians providing him with key information on the Federal movements. Forrest said:

“I know they greatly outnumber the troops I have at hand, but the road along which they will march is narrow and muddy; they will make slow progress. The country is densely wooded and the undergrowth so heavy that when we strike them they will not know how few men we have.”

The rain stopped on the 10th, giving way to extreme heat and humidity. Taking the heat and mud into account, Forrest guessed that the Federal cavalry would come up first, which he could defeat before the Federal infantry arrived. Sure enough, Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson’s 3,300 Federal cavalrymen were in the lead, knocking back the Confederate pickets, crossing Tishomingo Creek, and reaching Brice’s Crossroads at 9:45 a.m.

A small Confederate force arrived, which Grierson pushed east down the road to Baldwyn about a mile. The rest of Forrest’s command arrived around 11:30 and turned the tide, pushing the Federals back to Brice’s. Grierson called for Sturgis to bring up the infantry, but when the troops finally came up at 1:30 p.m., they were exhausted from hurrying to the front and hungry from being on half-rations.

Both sides held their ground and traded fire until Forrest’s troopers worked their way around both Federal flanks, and Confederate artillery poured canister into the enemy line. Sturgis contracted his line into a semicircle around the crossroads, facing east.

Confederates attacked the bridge over the Tishomingo around 3:30 p.m., and although they were repulsed, they caused enough confusion among the Federals for Sturgis to order a withdrawal. The Confederates continued attacking the Federals as they funneled onto the Tishomingo bridge, causing them to flee in panic and leave most of their wagons and guns behind.

Some Federal officers called on Sturgis to counterattack, but he replied, “For God’s sake, if Mr. Forrest will let me alone, I will let him alone! You have done all you could, and more than was expected… Now all you can do is to save yourselves.”

The Confederates chased and harassed the Federals all the way back to Memphis. This was one of Forrest’s most remarkable victories of the war. His men captured 176 wagons and 16 guns while sustaining 492 casualties (96 killed and 396 wounded).

This was one of the Federals’ most embarrassing defeats in the Western Theater, as Sturgis was routed by a force a third of his size. The Federals lost 2,240 men (223 killed, 394 wounded, and 1,623 captured). However, Sturgis did prevent Forrest from wreaking havoc on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, which Forrest had planned to do before having to come back to face the Federals in northern Mississippi.

After this failed expedition, Sturgis remained in Memphis “awaiting orders.” When Sherman learned of the defeat, he exclaimed, “There will never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead!”



Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 173; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 79; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 520; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 189-90; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 418, 422-23, 425; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7626-36, 7647-87, 7698-718, 7784-94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447, 450-51, 453-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 512-13, 515-16, 519, 521; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 748; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 346; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 729-30

Eastern Tennessee: Longstreet Wins and Foster Leaves

January 28, 1864 – The Federals looked to follow up their victory at Fair Gardens, while Major General Ulysses S. Grant looked to replace the Federal commander at Knoxville.

On the 27th, Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis, commanding the cavalry in the Federal Army of the Ohio, defeated half of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate cavalry under Major General William T. Martin with just one division. That night, Sturgis vowed to pursue and destroy the enemy, as locals reported that the retreating Confederates “presented the appearance of a panic-stricken mob as they were running through the mountains.”

The next morning, Sturgis directed his other two divisions to advance on Dandridge, where Longstreet’s corps was based. Martin, calling for reinforcements, received support from cavalry under Brigadier General Frank C. Armstrong and infantry under Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson. The Federals approached the French Broad River and came upon the Confederate reinforcements crossing the waterway and taking up strong defenses.

The Confederates easily repulsed Federal attacks near Swann’s Island. When Sturgis received word that Longstreet was trying to get between the Federal army base at Knoxville and Sturgis’s base at Sevierville, he ordered a withdrawal. The Federals fell back to Sevierville, but when the Confederates advanced to confront them, they continued retreating to Maryville, south of Knoxville.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet now controlled the region between Sevierville and Dandridge, which provided much-needed forage for his troops. Sturgis reported, “Our loss in this engagement is pretty severe, about eight officers that I now know of, and a great many men I fear.” He also regretted the loss of Sevierville, stating, “It is hard to leave these loyal people to the mercies of the enemy, but it can’t be helped. If I had had a division of infantry at Sevierville, I could have annihilated both these divisions of rebel cavalry…”

Meanwhile, General Grant, commanding the Federal Military Division of the Mississippi, continued pressing Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Army of the Ohio, to send his entire army to confront Longstreet. Foster had resisted, citing the unforgiving countryside, his troops’ lack of supplies, and his own condition (he was still recovering from a wound that needed treatment).

Grant responded, “While you may deem it impracticable to immediately assume the offensive against Longstreet, keep at least far out toward him active parties to watch his movements and impede any advance he may make by positive resistance.” Unaware of the fighting between Sturgis and Martin, Grant advised Foster to “be prepared at any moment on receipt of orders for offensive operations.”

Grant contacted Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, and reiterated that Foster may need his help. Thomas replied, “I am trying to get up forage enough for a 10-days’ expedition, and if successful will make a strong demonstration on Dalton and Resaca (in Georgia), unless Longstreet’s movements compel me to go to East Tennessee.”

Revisiting Foster’s request to be removed as commander so he could tend to his wound, Grant considered several candidates. These included Thomas and Major General James B. McPherson, commanding a corps in the Army of the Tennessee. Ultimately, Major General John Schofield was chosen, having recently been removed as commander of the contentious Department of Missouri. Schofield headed toward his new assignment as Foster prepared to obey Grant’s orders to launch an offensive.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 392; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 252-53; Wilson, David L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 642

Eastern Tennessee: The Sevierville Engagement

January 26, 1864 – Federals and Confederates clashed for two days, resulting in minor victories for both sides in this forbidding region of eastern Tennessee.

Gen J.G. Foster | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio from Knoxville, had been pressured by his superior, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, to drive the enemy out of eastern Tennessee. A portion of Foster’s army had clashed with Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederates at Dandridge, and Longstreet had threatened to pursue the Federals all the way back to Knoxville.

Foster feared that Longstreet might have been reinforced to the point that he could lay siege to Knoxville once more. But after receiving further information, Foster reported to Grant on the 22nd, “The enemy presses vigorously, and is about seven miles from town… I am now satisfied that Longstreet has been considerably re-enforced, but not large enough, I think, to warrant his renewing the siege of this place.” Scouts informed Foster that Longstreet’s Confederates still held Dandridge and had been reinforced by a division.

The next day, Federal scouts from Major General Jacob D. Cox’s XXIII Corps probed for nearby Confederates but could not find them. Foster reported that “the rebels have ceased to press vigorously.” With Longstreet no longer an immediate threat, Foster stated that it was “absolutely necessary that the army have rest.” He then informed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, that “the enemy has retired and I am now putting the tired troops in cantonment, where they may rest a little before the spring campaign.”

Foster placed IX Corps between Longstreet and Knoxville, and IV and XXIII corps on the Tennessee River, with the former at Kingston and the latter at Loudon. He continued complaining of supply shortages, stating that “the bread thus far received from Chattanooga has not amounted to one-tenth of the ration. We now have only enough for the hospitals.”

Meanwhile, Grant misinterpreted Foster’s messages to mean that Longstreet was still pursuing the Federals. He asked Foster if he could “organize a cavalry force to work its way past Longstreet south of him, to get into his rear and destroy railroad and transportation, or cannot (Orlando) Willcox (who temporarily commanded IX Corps) do this from the north?” If this could not be done, Grant ordered Foster to see that battle was “given where Longstreet is now.”

Grant then asked Thomas to send the rest of IV Corps to reinforce Foster, and “take the command in person, and on arrival at Knoxville to take command of all the forces” since Foster was suffering from a wound that made it “impossible for him to take the field. In justice to himself, and as I want Longstreet routed and pursued beyond the limits of the State of Tennessee, it is necessary to have a commander physically able for the task.”

Grant wired General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, who had pressed Grant to keep the Federal hold on eastern Tennessee:

“Foster telegraphs that Longstreet is still advancing toward Knoxville. I have directed him to get his cavalry to Longstreet’s rear, or give battle if necessary. I will send Thomas with additional troops to insure Longstreet’s being driven from the state.”

Andrew Johnson, Tennessee’s military governor, joined with Grant in urging a command change at Knoxville. However, Johnson did not have Thomas in mind. He wrote President Abraham Lincoln on the 24th, “I hope that it will be consistent with the public interest for General (Ambrose E.) Burnside to be sent back to East Tennessee. He is the man; the people want him; he will inspire more confidence than any other man at this time.” But Burnside had left the Army of the Ohio to oversee soldier recruitment in his native New England.

Gen S.D. Sturgis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

While the opposing infantries settled into tenuous winter quarters in eastern Tennessee, the opposing cavalries continued their foraging and scouting operations. Both Federals and Confederates operated around the French Broad River, skirmishing from time to time as the Federals held the south bank and the Confederates held the north. Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis, commanding the Federal cavalry, lamented that stripping the countryside of foodstuffs forced civilians to starve:

“I do not know that it can be avoided, but I may say that it is a pity that circumstances should compel us to entirely exhaust the country of these loyal people. If we remain here long they must suffer, and it will be impossible for them to raise anything next year. The necessity for pressing supplies leads immediately to plundering that soldiers find no difficulty in taking the step from the one to the other, and in spite of all I can do to the contrary. It is distressing to witness the sufferings of these people at the hands of the friends for whom they have been so long and so anxiously looking. You cannot help it; neither can I, and I only refer to it because my heart is full of it.”

Both sides had to venture farther and farther from their bases to find food, and soon Longstreet’s Confederates were out near Newport, some 15 miles east of their base. Moxley Sorrell, Longstreet’s aide-de-camp, advised, “As the enemy has now a large force on the south side of the French Broad, it will be necessary for your operations and movements to be conducted with great caution.”

Grant’s orders to drive Longstreet out of the region filtered down to Sturgis, commanding the Federal cavalry, who was to push the Confederates out of their winter quarters at Morristown and Russellville. Foster informed Grant that Sturgis was preparing to move, “but thus far he has found it impossible to execute it from the opposition met with and the worn-down condition of the horses. I do not think it practicable at this time to advance in force and attack Longstreet at Morristown.”

Foster then referred to his own condition, which was made worse by the terrible weather: “The sooner I obtain relief by an operation, the sooner I can return to active duty. Cannot I leave now for this purpose?” Grant briefly considered taking command himself as he began searching for a suitable replacement.

Foster did not want to fight Longstreet, but a fight was coming regardless. Sturgis left his base at Sevierville on the 26th, heading north and east toward Dandridge. As the Federals approached, Longstreet dispatched his cavalry under Major General William T. Martin to cross the French Broad and attack Sturgis’s rear. The Confederates rode to the Fair Gardens area, about 10 miles east of Sevierville.

As skirmishing began, Sturgis initially reported that the Confederates were “making no very determined assault.” However, Martin’s troopers eventually drove one of Sturgis’s regiments to the fork in the Sevierville road leading to either Fair Gardens or Newport.

A Confederate detachment attacked Federals under Colonel Frank Wolford northeast of Sevierville and pushed them toward the town as the day ended. Sturgis reported from Sevierville, “Many of his (Wolford’s) men came into this place and report that the enemy had infantry.” Sturgis began concentrating his cavalry while calling for infantry support. He wrote Foster, “The enemy is evidently very strong and exultant over their last few days’ operations. We will do the best we can, but I do not feel like promising much.”

By the next day, the Confederates had concentrated on the Newport road, with their line running from near the Dickey House southeast to McNutt’s Bridge on the Big East Fork of the Little Pigeon River. On the Federal side, Sturgis was now reinforced by three infantry regiments. Sturgis decided to act first and sent his Federals against Martin’s troopers.

Supported by artillery, the Federals pushed the Confederates back a mile before crossing the East Fork under cover of their guns. The two sides charged and countercharged, with neither giving ground as the Confederates made a stand near McNutt’s Bridge. Colonel Oscar La Grange’s Federal brigade charged a Confederate battery, and a group of soldiers rallied around their flag. According to La Grange, the guns were captured, “the drivers sabered, and the teams stopped in a deep cut within a quarter of a mile.”

Martin finally fell back to Fair Gardens. The Federals sustained 60 to 70 casualties, while the Confederates lost 312 (200 killed or wounded and 112 captured), along with two guns. Sturgis had defeated Longstreet’s cavalry using just one of his three cavalry divisions. Sturgis claimed, “In the whole day’s fighting their loss must be very large.” Longstreet confirmed this:

“General Martin had a severe cavalry fight on the 27th. He was driven back four miles, with a loss of 200 killed, wounded, and missing, and 2 pieces of artillery. The enemy’s cavalry has been greatly increased by the cavalry from Chattanooga. Most of the cavalry force from that place is now here… We can do but little while this superior cavalry force is here to operate on our flank and rear. Do send me a chief of cavalry.”

Sturgis declared, “We will pursue them until we drive them out of the country, or are driven out ourselves.”



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 391-92; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 252-53

Eastern Tennessee: The Dandridge Engagement

January 17, 1864 – Federals and Confederates moved toward Dandridge to gather much-needed foodstuffs for the hungry troops in the bitter eastern Tennessee winter.

The Federal Army of the Ohio, stationed at Strawberry Plains, had stripped the surrounding countryside of forage. The troops therefore began moving toward Dandridge, an important crossroads town near the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad, that promised more provisions. They were led by Major General Philip Sheridan.

Gen S.D. Sturgis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Federal cavalry under Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis drove off Confederate horsemen probing near the town, unaware that Lieutenant General James Longstreet had mobilized his infantry to seize Dandridge as well. Most of Sturgis’s men took the Morristown Road to Kimbrough’s Crossroads, while a detachment met enemy cavalry southeast of Dandridge, at the bend of Chunky Road. When these Federals could not drive the Confederates off, they fell back to Dandridge.

Sturgis received word on the 17th that the Confederates were preparing to attack, and he invited Sheridan to come watch him “whip the enemy’s cavalry.” Sheridan declined, as he was still leading his infantry toward Dandridge. Sturgis readied for the enemy horsemen, but he was surprised to see that they were backed by Longstreet’s infantry. Sturgis fell back to join the main Federal force.

Sheridan set up defenses outside Dandridge and called on the remaining troops under Major Generals Gordon Granger and John G. Parke for support. As the Federals probed the Confederate lines about four miles from town, Longstreet’s troops moved around the Federals’ flank and nearly into their rear. Longstreet did not send his heavy guns with them because “the ringing of the iron axles of the guns might give notice to our purpose.”

Granger arrived to take command, and Sheridan’s division began building a bridge below Dandridge that would allow the Federals to forage in the region and return to their camps at Strawberry Plains and Knoxville. Sheridan’s bridge was seemingly completed, “but to his mortification, he found at dark that he was on an island, and that it would require four more hours to complete this bridge.”

Longstreet arranged his men in attack positions around 4 p.m. Parke, who had arrived on the scene with Granger and Sheridan, reported to Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Army of the Ohio from Knoxville, at 6:30 p.m.:

“There is no doubt that Longstreet’s whole force is immediately in our front on the Bull’s Gap and the Bend of Chunky Roads. They advanced on us this evening. We have no means of crossing the river. I shall fall back on Strawberry Plains.”

According to Longstreet, “As the infantry had had a good long march before reaching the ground, we only had time to get our position a little after dark. During the night the enemy retired to New Market and to Strawberry Plains, leaving his dead upon the ground.” Granger issued the orders to withdraw at 9 p.m. The Federals left their partially completed bridge behind.

As the Confederates camped for the night, Foster feared they may have been reinforced by General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. However, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck informed him that according to the latest intelligence, “Longstreet has had no re-enforcements from Lee of late.”

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

The Confederates entered Dandridge on the morning of the 18th. In his memoirs, Longstreet wrote:

“When I rode into Dandridge in the gray of the morning the ground was thawing and hardly firm enough to bear the weight of a horse. When the cavalry came at sunrise the last crust of ice had melted, letting the animals down to their fetlocks in heavy limestone soil. The mud and want of a bridge to cross the Holston made pursuit by our heavy columns useless.”

Longstreet noted that the Federal retreat seemed “to have been made somewhat hastily and not in very good order.” He began a half-hearted pursuit, and “the men without shoes were ordered to remain as camp guards, but many preferred to march with their comrades.” The Confederates could not make much progress because “the bitter freeze of two weeks had made the rough angles of mud as firm and sharp as so many freshly-quarried rocks, and the partially protected feet of our soldiers sometimes left bloody marks along the roads.”

The Federals continued falling back, as Foster directed them to keep retreating all the way to Knoxville. Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps, stated that “in the afternoon, the rain changed to moist driving snow. The sleepy, weary troops toiled doggedly on; the wagons and cannon were helped over the bad places in the way, for we were determined not to abandon any, and the enemy was not hurrying us.”

Stopping short of Strawberry Plains that night, Cox recalled, “We halted the men here and went into bivouac for the night… sheltered from the storm and where the evergreen boughs were speedily converted into tents of a sort, as well as soft and fragrant beds.” Cox wrote that “it had been a wretchedly cheerless and uncomfortable march, but the increasing cold and flying snow made the camp scarcely less inclement.”

This small engagement at Dandridge caused an uproar in Washington, as officials believed that the Federals might abandon eastern Tennessee altogether. Halleck reminded Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Western Theater, that President Abraham Lincoln considered holding the region “the very greatest importance, both in a political and military point of view, and no effort must be spared to accomplish that object.”

Halleck then asked Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, to “please give particular attention to the situation of General Foster’s army in East Tennessee, and give him all the aid which he may require and you may be able to render.” Thomas could do nothing except ship more supplies to Foster’s army. The Federal high command would eventually realize that the engagement did not portend the disaster that they feared.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 390

The Confused Missouri Situation

September 23, 1861 – Despite the recent loss of Lexington and the scattering of his forces, Major General John C. Fremont notified his superiors that his troops were somehow “gathering around the enemy” in Missouri.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fremont’s Department of the West consisted of nearly 40,000 Federal officers and men in Missouri. However, they were scattered among various posts, and as President Lincoln predicted, Fremont’s declaration of martial law and emancipation proclamation had incited Missouri State Guards and partisans into stepping up their attacks on the Federals.

Fremont commanded several major Federal forces in northern and western Missouri, as well as a force under Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant that operated in the southeastern Missouri-southern Illinois-western Kentucky sector. Grant learned from “a negro man (who) tells a very straight story” that partisans were gathering at New Madrid, Missouri, and prepared to confront them. However, Fremont pulled two regiments from his command in response to an urgent call from Washington to send reinforcements east. This temporarily halted Grant’s offensive.

In western Missouri, Unionist Kansans led by James H. Lane operated along the Kansas-Missouri border. Lane’s Jayhawkers burned the Missouri town of Osceola and committed other depredations that gained no military advantage. They only continued the brutal combat that had taken place along the border before the war began, when Missourians and southerners fought to make Kansas a slave state and northern abolitionists fought to make it free.

In northern Missouri, Federals under Colonel Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president) clashed with Missourians in the Boonville area, while a force under Brigadier-General Samuel D. Sturgis pulled back from Rolla to St. Charles. Fremont sent Brigadier-General John Pope, commanding another Federal force in the region, to Iowa to recruit more volunteers.

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Fremont’s failure to effectively coordinate the movements of Davis, Sturgis, and Pope allowed a large Missouri partisan force under Martin Green to operate around Florida and then escape pursuit. It also helped lead to the fall of Lexington. Pope learned of the dire situation at Lexington while en route to Iowa and informed Fremont that he would send reinforcements there, “presuming from General Sturgis’ dispatches that there is imminent want of troops in Lexington.” However, Fremont instructed Pope to continue recruiting efforts in Iowa, and none of the other nearby Federal forces could reach the town in time.

Despite all this, Fremont sent a favorable message to Washington on September 23, to which Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott replied: “The President is glad that you are hastening to the scene of action. His words are, ‘He expects you to repair the disaster at Lexington without loss of time.’”

Fremont set about reorganizing his army into five divisions, with Pope commanding the right wing. Major General David Hunter would command the left, but his forces were dispersed throughout various points. Fremont initially planned to have Hunter concentrate at Jefferson City, but that would leave the region west of Rolla open for Missouri State Guards to operate with impunity. Repositioning all the elements of the Army of the West caused many logistical problems for Fremont.

Meanwhile, General Sterling Price, whose State Guards had captured Lexington, received word that Confederates under Generals Gideon Pillow and William Hardee had withdrawn from southeastern Missouri, and General Ben McCulloch’s Confederates had fallen back into Arkansas. This left Price alone while a force led by Fremont himself advanced from St. Louis to take back Lexington. Price resolved to abandon the town.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, the new commander of Confederate Department No. 2 (i.e., the Western Theater), had his sights set on Missouri as part of a bigger picture that also included Arkansas and Kentucky. Johnston ordered McCulloch “to muster into service as many armed regiments of Arkansas and Missouri troops” as possible. Johnston also ordered M. Jeff Thompson to lead his Missouri State Guards to the “vicinity of Farmington, on the route to Saint Louis” to “relieve the pressure of the Federal forces on General Price… and if possible to embarrass their movements by cutting their Ironton Railroad.” Thompson quickly dispatched troops to destroy railroad bridges around Charleston and Birds Point by month’s end.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6873; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 72-74, 78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 61-64, 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 113, 120-21; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 156-57

Wilson’s Creek: The Aftermath

August 11, 1861 – Demoralized Federal troops began a long retreat in Missouri following yesterday’s defeat, and the victors did not pursue.

The Federal retreat from Springfield that had been scheduled to begin at 2 a.m. on the 11th started two hours late because Brigadier General Franz Sigel, now commanding the Army of the West, was asleep. The town was not evacuated until after 6 a.m., with the Federals marching in disarray toward Rolla, 110 miles away.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Gustavus Elgin and Colonel R.H. Mercer, staffers under Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, who had been killed in yesterday’s battle, gave instructions for preparing Lyon’s body for burial. Lyon was temporarily interred in Springfield.

Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch dispatched the 3rd Texas Cavalry to reconnoiter Federal positions and learned that they had abandoned Springfield. He arranged to regroup his army and tend to the wounded on both sides in the town, and Springfield soon became a vast military hospital. McCulloch released the Federal prisoners captured in battle because he would “rather fight them than feed them.”

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals marched 32 miles, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and McCulloch. Sigel, a former German revolutionist, had his German immigrants leading the march, prompting other Federals to charge favoritism. They called for Major Samuel D. Sturgis, who had taken temporary army command following Lyon’s death, to be reinstated. The troops were on the verge of mutiny by the time they stopped at Niangua for the night.

Back at Springfield, McCulloch issued a proclamation to Missourians, stating, “I do not come among you to make war upon any of your people, whether Union or otherwise.” He pledged to protect the rights and property of all people, regardless of their loyalties, but asserted that Missouri “must be allowed to choose her own destiny.” McCulloch promised to require “no oaths binding your consciences,” but “Missouri must now take her position, be it North or South.”

McCulloch then issued orders to his men, stating that while he was proud that their “first battle had been glorious,” he had “hopes that the laurels you have gained will not be tarnished by a single outrage. The private property of citizens of either party must be respected. Soldiers who fought as well as you did the day before yesterday cannot rob or plunder.” However, the undisciplined Confederates looted Springfield, making the already predominantly Unionist residents there even more so.

Meanwhile, Major General Sterling “Pap” Price, commanding the Missouri State Guard portion of McCulloch’s force, urged McCulloch to advance toward Lexington. McCulloch refused, citing an ammunition shortage. Developments in southeastern Missouri may have also played a role in McCulloch’s decision to stay put: Confederate General Gideon Pillow received orders to return his force to Arkansas after being stuck in New Madrid.

East of Springfield, Sigel’s Federal army, near the crossing of the Niangua River, covered just three miles on the 12th, as troops continued railing against Sigel’s perceived favoritism toward the Germans and demanding his removal. When the march was delayed for three hours while the Germans ate their breakfast on the morning of the 13th, officers demanded that Sturgis confront Sigel.

Sturgis reluctantly complied and informed Sigel that he (Sturgis) technically ranked him since he was a major in the Regular Army and Sigel was a brigadier-general of volunteers. Outraged, Sigel demanded the move be put to a vote. Sturgis refused, stating that officers who voted against him “might refuse to obey my orders, and I should be under the necessity of shooting you.” This mollified Sigel, and the Federal march resumed. But the troops did not reach Rolla until the 17th.

When Major General John C. Fremont, commanding the Federal Department of the West from St. Louis, learned of the defeat at Wilson’s Creek, he absolved himself of any responsibility for it. But he did send an Iowa brigade to Rolla to discourage any Confederate pursuit of Sturgis’s force. Fremont then desperately called on the Lincoln administration to send more men to Missouri.

Secretary of War Simon Cameron responded by ordering volunteers in Ohio and Illinois to head west. Despite Fremont’s denials, the defeat called the administration’s attention to what seemed to be a growing lack of effective Federal military leadership in Missouri.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 108; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 146

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

August 10, 1861 – Federals not only suffered a second major defeat within a month, but they lost an army commander as well.

In early morning darkness, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s Federal Army of the West moved to within striking distance of the combined force of Confederates and Missouri secessionists under Generals Ben McCulloch and Sterling “Pap” Price near Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. The Federals, hoping to deceive the enemy by avoiding the road from Springfield, approached the Confederates from the northwest. The Confederates had not posted pickets and thus did not know they were about to be attacked, with Lyon’s main force approaching their front and Brigadier General Franz Sigel’s detachment approaching their southern (right) flank and rear.

Though outnumbered 2-to-1, both Lyon and Sigel attacked around 5 a.m. amid the rolling hills and thick brush about 12 miles southwest of Springfield. To the north, Lyon led Federals that drove off enemy cavalry and seized Oak Hill, a key strategic position west of Wilson’s Creek. From there the entire Confederate camp could be seen below; it later became known as “Bloody Hill.”

Battle of Wilson's Creek | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle of Wilson’s Creek | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

To the south, Sigel’s Federals attacked the opposite end of the Confederate camp, catching the men by surprise with an artillery battery. Soon the Confederates found themselves caught between Sigel and Lyon, with Sigel pushing them toward Lyon.

McCulloch and Price focused mainly on Bloody Hill. The Pulaski Arkansas Artillery opened an enfilading fire on the Federals as Price rushed his troops to the southern base of the hill around 6:30 a.m. This, along with Lyon waiting to hear from Sigel, halted the Federal advance and gave the Confederates time to organize.

Brigadier General James McIntosh’s Confederates stopped a Federal attempt to silence the Pulaski battery. McIntosh’s troops tried pursuing the Federals, but they were stopped by Federal artillery. Brigadier General James H. McBride led a Confederate attack on the Federal right at 7:30 a.m., but that was stopped as well. The Confederates fell back to regroup.

Meanwhile, Sigel led his men northward on the Telegraph road running along Wilson’s Creek. He lost contact with Lyon, leaving his men isolated on the Confederate right and rear. McCulloch personally led Louisiana troops in an attack on Sigel’s vulnerable left flank south of Skegg’s Branch. The Federals hesitated to fire because the Louisianans wore the same gray uniforms as the familiar 1st Iowa. This enabled the Confederates to unleash a deadly volley that crumpled Sigel’s flank and sent his men running from the field. The Confederates captured all five of Sigel’s cannon before turning their full attention to Lyon on Bloody Hill.

Lyon brought up reinforcements that withstood a second Confederate advance and then counterattacked around 9 a.m. Price’s Confederates lay in wait within the brush as Lyon advanced. The farther down Bloody Hill the Federals marched, the heavier the gunfire became until both sides stopped and traded deafening shots. The Federals slowly fell back, regrouped, and then regained the lost ground.

From atop his horse, Lyon was encouraging his men to stand firm when a nearby shell exploded, killing his horse and wounding him in the leg and head. Lyon waved his sword to urge the troops to press on, then stepped behind the lines to contemplate his next move. Officers urged Lyon to order another attack. Lyon directed Major Samuel D. Sturgis, the second ranking Federal, to rally the men, then mounted another horse and returned to the front. Fighting now raged all along the line.

Lyon led an Iowa regiment over the hill’s crest. As he waved his hat to inspire the 2nd Kansas, Lyon was shot in the chest. His orderly, Private Albert Lehman, helped him off the horse, where he said, “Lehman, I am killed,” shortly before dying. Lyon became the first Federal general killed in combat. His death shattered Federal morale.

Command passed to Major Sturgis, whose first priority was to determine Sigel’s location because the Federals could not maintain their position without his support. Meanwhile, Confederate cavalry briefly stopped the Federal advance, giving Price time to regroup once more. Reinforced by the troops that had routed Sigel, Price charged a third time but was again repulsed after about an hour of fighting.

Sturgis received word of Sigel’s failure as the Confederates withdrew around 11 a.m. Noting that his men were exhausted and their ammunition was running low, Sturgis ordered them to fall back toward Springfield. The Confederates learned of the Federal withdrawal while preparing for a fourth charge. McCulloch and Price rode to the crest of Bloody Hill to see the enemy troops retiring in good order. Both men agreed that their forces were too disorganized to pursue.

Nevertheless, like Bull Run a month earlier, the second major battle of the war ended in Confederate victory. The Federals suffered 1,317 casualties (258 killed, 873 wounded, and 186 missing), an alarming 24 percent casualty rate. The Confederates lost 1,230 (277 killed and 945 wounded), or about 12 percent of those engaged.

The Federals returned to Springfield around 5 p.m., where Sturgis transferred army command to Sigel. The officers held a meeting and resolved that since the ranks had been so heavily battered and their commander killed, they would retreat to Rolla, 110 miles northeast. This would concede a major part of Missouri to the secessionists. The retreat was slated to begin at 2 a.m.



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